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121. Listening Up (Mark 9:1-13)

February 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“Realize that in this life we are travelers on a journey: our true home is in heaven.”  - St. Cajetan

Mark 9:1-13: And he said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.’ Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus: ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus. As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True,’ he said, ‘Elijah is to come first and to see that everything is as it should be; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of Man that he is to suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? However, I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’

Christ the Lord  We glimpse through the eyes of Christ’s three closest disciples the true glory of this humble carpenter from the small town of Nazareth. The transfiguration of Christ on Mt Tabor unveils for a shining moment Christ’s divinity, so subtly disguised during the rest of his earthly days. In Jesus Christ, heaven and earth meet; time and eternity mingle. St Mark points out that the brilliance of Christ’s countenance, and even of his clothes, surpassed the brightest imaginable experience of earthly light. He conversed with God’s closest Old Testament collaborators, Moses and Elijah, whose law and prophecies had prefigured him. The entire scene culminates in the descent of a cloud (the Holy Spirit) and the voice of God the Father… Jesus Christ is more than just another rabbi; in him we behold the “fullness of grace and truth,” the “glory of the father,” and the face of everlasting love (cf. John 1, 3:16). And yet, at the same time, he is just plain Jesus, the rabbi from Galilee. Christ indeed is a Lord unlike any other, full of divine power but gentle as the humblest friend, as the Sacrament of the Eucharist so eloquently bears witness.

Christ the Teacher  When God the Father speaks from heaven, we ought to listen. No doubt he chooses his words carefully: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Throughout all of history, mankind has sought answers to the pressing questions that simmer deep within the human heart: Why are we here? How can we find the happiness we long for so desperately? Why is there suffering and evil? What is the ultimate meaning of existence? Often, as attested by the great literature of human history, man has addressed these questions directly to God, and God has responded. But his response is a surprising one: his answer is a living person, not a formulaic philosophy – the person of his “beloved Son,” Jesus Christ. Through Christ’s life, teachings, death, and resurrection, God has answered all our questions more thoroughly than we could ever have imagined. Christ himself is the answer. As Pope John Paul II put it in his first encyclical letter, “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history” (Redemptor hominis, 1).

By enjoining the three apostles to “listen to him,” the Father seems to imply that even though Christ is his beloved Son, not everyone will easily accept him. We hear a kind of plea in that command, a plea that should give us pause. Christ is the answer, but is he my answer? Do I listen to him? Do I follow him? He is the center of the universe, but is he the center of my life? The Father wants him to be – that’s why he sent him in the first place – but he leaves us free to make the choice.

The apostles’ question to Jesus about Elijah exemplifies our tendency to misinterpret God’s action in our lives. They are finally convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, after years of following him, listening to him, seeing his miracles, and now witnessing the Transfiguration. But a question lingers in their minds. The ancient prophecies said that Elijah would return to announce the Messiah’s arrival. So, if Jesus is the Messiah, where is Elijah? Jesus reaffirms the prophecy (we know from other Gospel passages that St John the Baptist, who had come in the spirit of Elijah, fulfilled that prophecy), but then he turns his companions’ minds once again to his coming passion. He asks them a rhetorical question, as if to say, “True, the prophecy about Elijah was not so easy to understand, but if you didn’t grasp the meaning of that one, how will you grasp the meaning of my coming passion, which is also prophesied in the Old Testament?” Jesus tells them repeatedly about his coming passion and resurrection, but they are unable to understand; they simply don’t listen – the idea of suffering turns them off. How like us they are!

Christ the Friend  At times, God grants us exceptional clarity, joy, and satisfaction along our path of Christian discipleship. He does so because he knows that we need foretastes of the happiness he has in store for us if we are to endure the crosses that mark our way. But sometimes, like spoiled children, we hold on to those good feelings as if they were God himself. We echo Peter’s petition: “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let’s just put up some tents and never leave!” But earth is not heaven, and God loves us too much to let us settle for anything less than the fullness of his friendship. And so, he leads us down from our high mountains and walks with us to Calvary, where he teaches us to love him and not just his gifts, to give of ourselves, and to store up our treasure in heaven.

Christ in My Life  Why do I take you for granted? You are too patient with me. Maybe I need a dramatic, Transfiguration-type experience to wake me up. I believe in you, Lord. I believe that you are the Eternal King, the Lord, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. And I believe that you – the same Lord, God and Savior – are really and truly present in the Eucharist…

I want to keep listening to you, Lord…. Please speak to my heart. Help me to know what you would have me say and do in each moment, in each relationship of my life. Make me like you, so that the right thing, the true thing, the fruitful thing is my natural preference in every situation. Thy will be done, Lord, in every corner of my life…

You promises crosses, but you also promise resurrection. Get me ready for my crosses, because I want to experience the new life you won for me through your Resurrection. Teach me to die to everything that is selfish and petty, so that your grace and your life can flow through me and spread your Kingdom among everyone around me…


PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published two other titles: "Meditations for Mothers" and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently resides in his Order’s General Directorate in Rome, where he is continuing his writing apostolate. His blog contains questions and answers on the spiritual life at His online retreats are available at

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  • Maria

    I remember this Gospel from Lent last year. It was the first Sunday after my first 8 day silent retreat in Mirador, a mountain-top retreat house.On the last day of the retreat I did not want to go home. I cried in the adoration chapel. I wanted to stay, afraid I would lose God again if I went back home. How wrong I was!

    In His wisdom and loving Divine Providence God helped deal with this fear. My family normally goes to a 4pm Mass. But that Sunday for some reason we were running a little late. We decided to go to a 4:30 Mass in another nearby Church. Only to arrive and realize the Mass schedule was changed to 4pm and so we were also late. We decided to go to Mass in a parish further away from home. But upon arriving found out the Mass would be at 6pm. We decided to wait there for the 6pm Mass. I read the Gospel and had to smile at Peter’s wanting to stay on the mountain.

    The Mass started. When I heard the priest’s homily, I could hardly believe what I was hearing! He talked about how mountains are where God talks to us because up there it is silent and closer to Him. Already I was thinking “Mirador” then he said after an intimate experience of God this is only meaningful if we live it out in our daily life. Going up the mountain is a choice. But we must go down the mountain.

    I was in awe! Clearly God wanted me to hear that homily! May I that my family had not attended Mass in that other parish in almost a decade. I was so amazed, grateful and humbled by this message!

    Thus began, my conversion story. :D Sorry for the long post. But I just wanted to share my story. I am still humbled and grateful for all He has done for me this past year!

    • danburke


    • Sojrnr


      The Protestant writer Oswald Chambers has some wonderful meditations on this Gospel passage. You might want to get a hold of a copy of his My Utmost for His Highest, a pretty famous book you might already have read. Chambers says in a very profound way essentially what your homilist said. Chambers tells us that we must go back down the mountain because a Christian, very much like our Lord, is called to share the good news and no matter how deep his experience he cannot follow Jesus if he stays up there. He must come down–rather as Jesus came down from heaven.

      Oh, could you tell us some more about your retreat? Sounds fascinating!

      • Maria

        Thank you for the book recommendation! Afraid I haven’t heard of it yet. It sounds interesting! I love that parallelism you mentioned about Jesus coming down from heaven.

        More about my retreat? It was a senior’s silent retreat for college students in Ateneo, (a Jesuit University) and so we did the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. We had a retreat in Mirador, a mountain-top retreat house. Those were among the best days of my life! There were beautiful gardens and pine trees all over. With nipa huts and benches or boulders for quiet places of meditation.
        There was a lovely vista where I looked out into the sunrise each morning. Before Mass each evening, everyone would look out into the sunsetting into the horizon of a gulf opening into the sea. The sunsets were beautiful and the peace in that place was wonderful. I especially remember the sunset on our last night. The fog was quite thick that night. But the sun shone through. The final rays of light danced through the fog, yellows and oranges weaving in and out in a joyous waltz.

        It was a profoundly wonderful experience! Praying there made me feel closer to Him than I had in a long time. Especially on the day we meditated on His Passion.

        Thank you for asking that question. It gave me the chance to remember this great gift He has given me. Hope I answered your question.

  • judeen

    old testement also talks of the Glory of God.. in a bright light.. so when Jesus became this bright light.. they knew the Holyness of it..  but couldnt quit understand Jesus was the fullfillment of it..
             there is a unspeakable awsomeness that can not be explained waiting for us.. but we can expereince it here.. many of the saints did… yet to get to that point we need to the Fathers will.. and the only was to know it is through Jesus… and our purification and agony.. to let go.. even the people we love… so we can love deeper , it is hard to explain , but like a bird that you love you let go.. so too . we let go of everything and every one , -  then when your can love more deeply… the agony is the twisting of the heart .. to over come our wants… the fight with in… to do Gods will not ours

  • John

    In my walk with my Lord and savior, as I abide in Christ and walk in his ways, He speaks to me as a father does to a son. My love for Him is deep in my life, I love you Daddy your son John

  • Mary@42

    Beautiful Post, Father John. This Sentence gnaws at my heart though : 
    Please speak to my heart but I fear  the ears of my heart are deaf and unable to hear His Voice. So I beg Him: “Help me to know what you would have me say and do in each moment, in each relationship of my life”